Ten years ago, I read Invisible Republic by Greil Marcus. Besides overturning my assumptions about the role of folk and blues in Dylan's music, it was also a shock to read intelligent, productive, tough-minded writing about a subject the writer loved.
I'd spent too many years in a graduate English program, which I didn't enjoy for many reasons. In retrospect, I mostly wish I'd been encouraged to do something with my writing other than knock things over, expose them as less than they seemed.
It was only AFTER leaving graduate school that I became interested in my own intellectual life again, as I had been in college. I gave myself permission to read what turned me on, and Marcus encouraged me to go ahead and love things, including their misdeeds and contradictions.
Then it was Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis Presley and Robert Cantwell's When We Were Good in rapid succession. Both were amazingly benevolent and unguarded, and both the work of razor-sharp minds doing much-need labor under rigorous standards. I'd gained a lot of powerful intellectual tools in graduate school, but hadn't understood you could use them for this.
The Celestial Monochord grew partly out of that awakening.
But there were many more books and other amazing experiences first — jug band contests, a half-dozen Mike Seeger concerts, banjo lessons, banjo camp, the Black Banjo conference in Boone, NC, and on and on.
Around 2005, my knowledge was deepening to the point that it was becoming harder to find what I was looking for online and in books. None of it could be Googled, you might say. So I slowly began to feel like a "source" of some kind, to see my perspective as fresh. Maybe not authoritative, maybe not a lot of other nice things, but singular.
So that's where this came from. Not so much to report what I know, but to see what I could discover if I did a little writing on it — especially if more knowledgable people than I noticed what I was working on and said hello, which has certainly come to pass.
Total words written in February = 21,000I hope to write more often than I was before this month's grand experiment, in which I've posted something every single day of the month of February.
Average words per entry = 790
For one thing, I will be "covering" the late-March Bob Dylan Symposium in Minneapolis. "Coverage" is not The Celestial Monochord's schtick, exactly, so we'll see what that exactly looks like. But I will definitely be there from gavel to gavel, notebook and camera in hand, business cards at the ready. I know it's no Battle of the Jug Bands, but ...
Thanks: Thank you for reading and writing back, both on and off the site. I have a lot of emails to respond to, and it'll take a little while to get to them.
Many special thanks to scholar Carol Mason, Brandy Snifter Lyle Lofgren, writer and musician Jerome Clark, and record collector/juggist Bill Boslaugh for their encouragement and tolerance. Thanks also to John Hinchey for the advertising.
None of this is these people's fault.
Most of all, thanks to my wife Jenny, who basically lost her husband this month. Thanks again for letting me print your poems. March belongs to you.
Jenny is generous, beautiful, brilliant, and steel-willed. But Celestial Monochord readers might appreciate this in particular — she's encouraged my interests to the point of paying my way to banjo camp, going with me to Boone, and giving me tall stacks of books, CDs, DVDs and concert tickets with breath-taking precision. She actually scolds me for not practicing my banjo enough around the house, and listens to me when I rave on and on about this hillbilly stuff. Several of this month's entries were suggested by her.